V. Jayanth

Only one bidder qualifies and New Delhi may get the nod in view of the Commonwealth Games

Experts faulted technical evaluation processSpecial Purpose Vehicle recommended for second airport

CHENNAI: Whatever the clarifications that the Empowered Group of Ministers (EoGM) on restructuring and modernisation of airports has sought and the Group of Eminent Technical Experts (GETE) may give, the options before the EoGM and the Government of India appear limited.

The EoGM in its report to the Government has recommended the disqualification of one of the two final bidders cleared after the earlier evaluation. This leaves only one bidder in the field and the regulations clearly specify that no bidder can take more than one airport - New Delhi or Mumbai, not both.

The Committee of Secretaries has accepted the recommendation of the GETE in disqualifying one bidder - Reliance - and clearing the other qualifying bidder GMR to take up work on the Delhi Indira Gandhi International airport first. The differences and the confusion remain over the fate of the Mumbai airport modernisation plan.

When there was a difference of opinion over the evaluation process adopted to clear the two bidders, the COS decided to appoint a GETE. The Managing Director, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, E. Sreedharan (who recently came in for praise at the hands of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) and the Railway Finance Commissioner R. Sivadashan, were appointed as experts, and provided technical assistance by the Director General, DGCA, Satendra Singh.

According to this committee's report, made available to The Hindu , a primary conclusion arrived at was - "There has been certain flaws in the technical evaluation process" - especially relating to the assignment of marks to sub-factors, which was done before the technical evaluation commenced. The GETE noted: "We feel, if a rational approach had been adopted, bidder E [Reliance], who now gets qualified by 0.3 marks for Mumbai and 1.1 marks for Delhi, would have been disqualified."

If bidder B (GMR) alone qualifies in the evaluation process, it can secure only one airport, which the GETE and the COS have suggested should be New Delhi, in view of the Commonwealth Games to be hosted there in 2010. But what happens to the Mumbai airport?

The GETE has recommended: "There is no need to take up the technical evaluation afresh nor to scrap the whole tender process and invite fresh bids. Tenderer B should be declared as the only bidder technically qualified and their financial bids should be opened for both the airports. Based on the best advantage to the country, one of the two airports can then be considered for assigning to them.

"For the other airport, again following the process of rebidding to select another consortium would involve considerable delays. As the restructuring and modernisation of the second airport cannot brook any further delay, we would recommend that the airport which is not assigned to bidder B should be taken up for modernisation and improvement through an agency of a Special Purpose Vehicle specially set up for this purpose on the lines of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. However, in this SPV with the public-private partnership route, Governments participation including that of the Airports Authority of India should be limited to 50 per cent so that the SPV will have more flexibility and freedom for taking decisions."

After considering the GETE's report, the Committee of Secretaries took the following decisions: (i) The recommendations of GETE to technically disqualify bidder E and technically pre-qualify only bidder B was accepted. (ii) Delhi Airport would be taken up for development on priority under this route. The financial bid of the technically qualified bidder would be opened for Delhi Airport and a committee would be constituted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to carry out negotiations with the bidder. (iii) Mumbai airport may be included in the next round of bids to be invited for airport modernisation along with Chennai and Kolkata airports.

If the EoGM should act within the parameters of the recommendations of both these committees, it should award one airport, preferably Delhi, to the only pre-qualified bidder. It can either include the other (Mumbai) in a second round of bidding, or opt for the Special Purpose Vehicle route to take it up early. A decision is expected next week, according to Civil Aviation Ministry sources.